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Darlington golf club's financial woes 'should have been flagged up sooner'
FINANCIAL difficulties suffered by a golf course at the centre of a controversial takeover deal should have been highlighted “four or five years ago”, a senior councillor has claimed.
Stressholme Golf Course, in Darlington, is being sold off by Darlington Borough Council to the neighbouring, privately-run, Blackwell Grange Golf Club.
The land swap will see the council buy 24 acres of Blackwell land, which has been earmarked for a future executive housing development.
Questions have arisen in recent weeks, following the decision of the council’s cabinet to press ahead with the deal - including whether Stressholme's £1m price tag was best value for council tax-payers, given that it could potentially be worth more if sold for development.
A meeting of the council’s efficiency and resources scrutiny committee, today (Tuesday, March 12), was told that such an outcome for Stressholme is extremely unlikely, as it is not within Darlington’s agreed development area and other more suitable development sites have already been identified.
Committee chairman Ian Haszeldine backed the original cabinet decision and said he could see just two potential uses for the land occupied by Stressholme: golf or agriculture.
Stressholme has received council subsidies worth hundreds of thousands of poundsin recent years.
The issue had been ‘called in’ for scrutiny by members of the council’s Conservative opposition and the deal now seems likely to proceed as planned.
Tory councillor Charles Johnson said: “It was known some time ago how difficult Stressholme had become.
“It should have been looked at four or five years ago, when it started going wrong, and decisions taken then.”
Coun Haszeldine said Stressholme’s finances had previously been scrutinised, but added that it had not been in great detail as other issues had taken precedence in the past.
Paul Wildsmith, the council’s director of resources, told the meeting he would still have recommended the authority press ahead with the project, even if loss-making Stressholme had performed better financially.
Labour councillor Bob Carson, a member of the scrutiny committee, said the meeting had been an example of how the council engages with the public.
Hinting at the millions of pounds worth of spending cuts the council has to make, he warned: “Stressholme is not going to be a one-off, there will be lots of decisions people are uncomfortable and unhappy with.”